What Are The Different Printing Methods Available?

There are many different types of printing methods available and they're continuing to evolve. Each type is suited to a different need, meaning that businesses can choose a printing technique that best highlights their products or service. So what are the different types of printing and how do they vary from each other? 

digital printer

Printing is something that's been around since before 220AD. The oldest known printing technique is known as woodcut and involves carving an image onto a wooden surface.

Printing has evolved a lot since then - instead of manual wood carving, you can choose from a wide range of technologically advanced methods. Here are seven of the most well-known and commonly used types:

Offset Lithography

Often used for:

  • Rough-surfaced media e.g. wood, canvas and cloth
  • Versatile method so can also be used for books, paper, stationery and more

Also known as offset printing or litho, offset lithography is a very popular method of mass-production printing. It involves printing plates, usually made from aluminium, which each hold an image of the content that needs to be printed.

These plates are then transferred (offset) onto rollers or rubber blankets before going onto the print media, which can be any type of paper you want. The print media doesn't come into contact with the metal plates, which extends the life of the plates. As well as this, the flexible material of the rollers or rubber blankets means offset lithography can be used on any media with rough surfaces. 

Offset lithography is great at producing consistently high quality images and can be used for small or high volume print jobs. It's also a versatile choice as it can print on any flat surface, regardless of whether it's smooth like paper or rough like canvas. 


Often used for:

  • Packaging and labels
  • Anything with continuous patterns e.g. wallpaper and gift wrap 

Flexographic printing is the modern version of letterpress printing and is commonly used for printing on uneven surfaces. This style of printing uses quick-drying, semi-liquid inks and can be used for high volume jobs.

Flexible photopolymer printing plates wrapped around rotating cylinders on a web press are used. These inked plates have a slightly raised image of the content on them and are rotated at high speeds to transfer the image onto the print media.

If you're wondering what some of these words mean, check out our glossary of 100 printing terms explained in everyday language.

Flexography is a popular choice for its high press speeds, suitability for long runs and ability to print on a huge range of media including plastic, cellophane and metallic film. 

Digital Printing

Ricoh digital printer in print studioOur digital printing studio

Often used for:

  • Posters and signage
  • Labels, newsletters, menus and letters

Digital printing is a modern method that covers a variety of different techniques including inkjet printing and laser. In digital printing, images are sent directly to the printer using digital files such as PDFs. This eliminates the need for a printing plate, which is used in other types of printing such as lithography, and can save time and money (unless you're printing in larger numbers).

Digital printing allows for quick turnaround and allows businesses to print on demand. It's also great for small run jobs - requests can be made for as little as one print. If you choose digital printing for the right job, it can make for a cost-effective method that still produces high quality prints similar to that of the other, bigger-scale options. 


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Colour swatches

Large Format

Often used for:

  • Large signage e.g. billboards, posters, vinyl banners
  • Wallpaper and murals
  • Floor graphics
  • Laminating

As the name might suggest, large format printing exists to produce maximum print roll width. Perfect for traditional advertising mediums and businesses who are looking to make a huge impact on their customers, this printing method gifts you with a much bigger area to work on, as opposed to the other methods such as digital printing.

Rather than printing onto individual sheets, large format printing uses rolls of prints that are fed incrementally to produce one large sheet. 

For large print media such as building wraps, billboards, banners and murals, large format printing is the best option. The other printing methods will not be able to produce as large a material. Most businesses choose large format media to produce flat items which can be hung on a wall, but they can also be folded or made to stand freely. 

Screen Printing

Often used for:

  • Printing logos and graphics onto clothes
  • Fabric banners
  • Posters

Screen printing is a printing technique where fine material or mesh is used to transfer an image onto another material. The mesh is stretched out so it creates a screen and ink is pressed against it in order to successfully print the image. Popularly used to print graphics onto clothes and other pieces of fabric, screen printing can also be used for paper and metal. 

There's a lot of setting up required with screen printing, so it's best used for printing repeat items in bulk. It's not very cost-effective for small number orders. But if you need a lot of the same image, it's a highly cost-effective method of printing. 

3D Printing

Often used for:

  • Promotion and marketing freebies
  • Novelty items
  • Display items
  • Toy figurines

Since the 1980s, 3D printing has allowed us to print three-dimensional objects, which can be a great way to make an impact on your audience. The desired objects of various shapes and sizes are created using digital model data from 3D models or electronic sources such as an Additive Manufacturing file (AMF). Additive compound mixtures are then fused together to produce this 3D object.  

3D printers have continued to get more and more sophisticated. Today, even items with interior moving parts can be printed. After the details have been worked out on a computer programme such as CAD, miniscule layers are printed on top of each other using a special plastic substance. 


LED UV printer

Often used for:

  • Newsletters, posters and leaflets
  • Magazines, catalogues, brochures and prospectuses
  • Stationery

LED UV printing is a method that's becoming increasingly popular among businesses due to its extremely high quality prints and quick turnaround times.

It's a form of digital printing that uses UV (ultraviolet) lights to dry the ink as it's being printed. The drying process, also known as UV curing, is unique and sets it apart from the other printing methods because it's instantaneous and prevents the ink from sinking into the materials.

The results? You no longer have to wait for the ink to dry, which saves time and the colours come out looking much sharper and clearer. 

LED UV is eco-friendly as it uses less power than traditional print machines and unlike many of the other methods, it's not limited to the type of stock (printing materials) or to certain print jobs.

Its versatility means it's ideal for a wide range of projects including brochures, catalogues, prospectuses and posters. Because of its ability to instantly dry ink and produce bright, vivid colours, it can turn an ordinary product into a luxury, high quality product that is attention grabbing.


Find Out More About Printing Techniques

There are many different printing methods available - some are suited to different tasks while others are more versatile and can work for a range of requirements.

In this post, we've outlined five of the most popular printing methods and what they're best for, but for even more clarity on the topic, download our free eBook on printing techniques.

We've compiled tips, advice and an in-depth comparison to help you choose the printing method that's best for you and keeps your product in your customers' hands for longer. Grab your copy below. 

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